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398. Water, water everywhere

Water seemed to be everywhere in the coffee news last week, and the biggest headlines were reserved for TOMS, which is expanding from shoes and fashion accessories into specialty coffee, and bringing its One-for-One approach with it: for each bag of coffee it sells, TOMS will deliver a week of water to a person in need.



But TOMS wasn’t the only coffee roaster that made a splash with new commitments to water security.  Keurig Green Mountain last week announced its pledge to deliver clean water to 1 million people by 2020; today announced $11 million in new commitments. 

And it’s not just the big brands that are getting serious about water.

TOMS Brings its One-For-One Model to Coffee

TOMS known for its cool shoes and its commitment to give away one pair in less-developed countries for every pair it sells in more-developed ones. The TOMS BOGO (Buy One, Give One) approach has been alternately praised and criticized, with some eminent Bills on both sides of the debate.

For: Bill Clinton.   Against: Bill Easterly.

Clinton, you know. Easterly, maybe not so much.

William Easterly is a former World Bank economist currently at NYU whose well-received 2006 book White Man’s Burden has cast a long shadow.  It raises compelling questions about the the effectiveness of dominant approach to international development.  It blames aid’s failures on the “planning” model that characterizes traditional development projects and holds up as an alternative model “searching” for market-based, locally appropriate solutions to development challenges.  It also started a feud between Easterly and the preeminent planner in international development, the UN’s Jeffrey Sachs, that has framed the better part of a decade of debate over aid effectiveness.  And it brought a broad new audience to critical engagement with international development issues.

Easterly hates the TOMS One-for-One shoe-giving model.


And Easterly has not been content merely to bash TOMS. He has gone after its partners, charging them with guilt by association:


The most fundamental critique of the TOMS One-for-One shoe-giving program is that it implies shoelessness is an acute development challenge. It is not.

But lack of access to water is among the leading constraints to economic development and increasingly a source of social conflict. And TOMS Roasting Co. has partnered with Water for People, a visionary non-profit working effectively to help communities improve water services around the world, to pledge a week of water access for one person for every bag of coffee purchased.

In short, this iteration of One-for-One may be harder to dismiss. I look forward to seeing what Easterly and other critics of the BOGO model have to say about how TOMS is applying it to coffee.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, CRS has partnered with TOMS to distribute shoes in several countries in Africa.)


Keurig Green Mountain: Access to Clean Water for 1 Million People

While the launch of TOMS Roasting Co. was grabbing the spotlight, Keurig Green Mountain quietly published its 2013 Sustainability Report, in which it pledged to deliver access to clean water for 1 million people by 2020 as part of and ambitious new five-part strategy for water stewardship:

  • expand access to clean water,
  • protect water sources,
  • foster innovation in approaches to the global water crisis,
  • rasie awareness of our collective impact on water resources, and
  • collaborate with others to amplify the positive contributions we make.

To achieve these objectives, the company has developed a range of long-term partnerships, including one with CRS.  Keurig Green Mountain has committed to fund the Blue Harvest concept we have been working on since 2011. An excerpt from it FY2013 water stewardship report:


Keurig Green Mountain’s $2.5 million investment in Blue Harvest is part of $11 million in new funding for water stewardship programs with four different organizations the company announced today.

Mariposa Coffee and Global Water Supply on Stage at TEDx

It’s not just the big brands that are getting serious about water. Amyie Kao of Mariposa Coffee took on the issue of global water supply during the recent TEDx event in Norman.  (That’s in Oklahoma.)  Her emotional appeal to engage with water issues was covered here last week by Roast Magazine’s Daily Coffee News.


Equal Exchange Biosphere Reserve Series

Meantime, the Fair Trade pioneer Equal Exchange recently released this interactive travelogue with photos and videos that tell the story of Organic Expedition, the third coffee in its Biosphere Reserve Series.  This collection of organic coffees comes from cooperatives working in buffer zones around biodiversity hot spots and is meant to celebrate the role that coffee plays in conserving water resources and biodiversity. 

Organic Expedition is grown by the CECOVASA cooperative near in the Bahuaha-Sonene national park.  The other two coffees in the series are: 8 Rivers from the Las Colinas cooperative, whose farm buffers the El Imposible national park in El Salvador, and Bird of Paradise, from the CESMACH coop near the El Triunfo reserve in Mexico.




1 Comment

  • Stacy Mc. says:

    I’m currently writing a blog post about TOM’s new coffee one-for-one model and gathering some stats and info on water insecurity. Personally, besides coffee being an odd addition for an apparel company, I think it’s odd to support water initiatives while simultaneously selling a product that requires a large amount of water.

    It says on their website that each bag of coffee guarantees 140 liters of water to a person in need. But 140 liters of water is needed to make one standard cup of coffee (125ml), which I’m sure is smaller than what most people drink in the U.S.

    At best, it’s just lessening the impact of coffee. But, if the areas they serve struggle with water insecurity, then perhaps, coffee isn’t the best product to support in those areas.

    I’m curious what your thoughts are as you are much closer to this issue than I am.

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